Instant-on Linux vendors put on a brave face against Chrome

They say Google's entry won't interfere with growth

Google Inc. says its coming Linux-based Chrome operating system will "start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds."

If Chrome can fulfill that promise, that could render the cut-down, instant-on Linux platforms offered by a cadre of smaller vendors less compelling, if not obsolete.

Those vendors include DeviceVM Inc. with its Splashtop mini-Linux, BIOS maker Phoenix Technologies Ltd., with its Linux-lite HyperSpace platform, Xandros Inc.'s Presto, and Good OS LLC's Cloud offering.

Makers of instant-on environments claim their offerings can boot in a matter of seconds, compared with the several minutes usually taken by Windows. They also say their platforms start up more reliably than Windows when woken from sleep or hibernate modes.

But early versions let users do little apart from surf the Web. That has changed in recent months. Phoenix added the Office-compatible ThinkFree suite this spring, while DeviceVM says it is close to adding support for streamed enterprise apps.

That has allowed some of these vendors to gain traction. DeviceVM, for instance, says eight out of the 10 largest PC makers are installing Splashtop as a second "pre-boot" environment as an adjunct to the main Windows operating system.

But Chrome's entry "is going to make it a lot harder for them to make a go of it," said independent analyst Jack Gold.

Not so, say these vendors. Mark Lee, CEO of DeviceVM, insists that Chrome OS "validates Splashtop's value proposition" and won't interfere with its growth.

"By the end of 2010, Splashtop will be in the hands of more than 150 million desktop, net-top, notebook, and netbook users," Lee said in an e-mailed statement. "Google's entry into the market should accelerate this trend, and help to make instant-on the de facto computing standard."

Woody Hobbs, CEO of Phoenix, said HyperSpace can run on both ARM and Intel CPUs, which Chrome aims to do. Moreover, HyperSpace can run as a "dual resume" environment side-by-side with Windows or a Linux environment such as Chrome, Hobbs said in a statement, allowing users to quickly switch back and forth between environments. That feature is unique to Phoenix, he said.

With Google unlikely to target Chrome as a secondary quick-boot environment for netbooks primarily running Windows, that leaves a niche for instant-on vendors, said Jeffrey Orr, an analyst with ABI Research.

Gold, meanwhile, said instant-on vendors might be able to compete if they can show much lower battery consumption than Chrome either when on or in sleep mode.

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Eric Lai

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